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14-year-old Palestinian boy injured by rocket receives surgery free of charge to repair skull

Where skull is supposed to cover brain, there is only skin.

Abdulrahman Almotawaq, 14, keeps the spot hidden with a baseball cap.

A brace on his left leg helps him walk, though with a significant limp. No matter how hard he tries, the partially paralyzed boy can’t make a fist with his left hand.

All of this is the result of getting hit by an Israeli rocket fragment near his home in the Gaza Strip Jan. 9, 2009.

This morning, Abdulrahman is in Columbus at The Medical Center where he is scheduled to have surgery.

Neurosurgeon Said Elshihabi of the Columbus Neurologic Institute is performing the operation. He is doing so free of charge.

Elshihabi said Abdulrahman has a traumatic skull defect and reconstruction is needed. “We’re going to put in a titanium plate and artificial bone material.”

The doctor said much of the operation is cosmetic, but is needed so Abdulrahman can “play just like a normal kid without fear.”

The surgery won’t affect Abdulrahman’s other physical problems, but Elshihabi said planned physical therapy might help.

Abdulrahman was brought here by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a non-political, nonprofit organization established in 1991 to address the medical and humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian children. The P.C.R.F., endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter, helps locate free medical care for children from the Middle East who are unable to get the necessary and specialized treatment at home. Coming to Atlanta, Abdulrahman was on an airplane with another Middle Eastern child being brought to Chicago for an artificial leg.

Abdulrahman, who has been in this country for a week, is staying with the family of Imad Nasserddin.

Nasserddin came to this country from Jerusalem 35 years ago. He left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and owns Aladdin’s Mediterranean Grill and Deli in Atlanta. He has three children.

“I heard through a friend that the fund was searching for a host family in Columbus but I didn’t know of anybody here so I decided to do it myself and drive him here,” Nasserddin said. “I like the humanitarian idea of giving kids a chance to get care not available to them at home.”

His family has taken their guest to markets and the Georgia Aquarium.

“He loves being around green trees,” Nasserddin said of the boy.

Accompanying Nasserddin and Abdulrahman to Columbus is Tawfeq Kaimari, a professor of organic chemistry at Spelman College in Atlanta where he’s involved in cancer cell research. Kaimari, who came to this country 22 years ago, also owns Jerusalem Bakery in Marietta, Ga., and Alpharetta, Ga. He is serving as translator for Abdulrahman.

“Politics doesn’t play a part in this organization,” Kaimari said. “That’s what I like about it.”

Abdulrahman lives in a Palestinian refugee camp with his parents and a dozen siblings. His parents don’t work.

“I like the freedom here,” the boy said. “Everyone has treated me well.”

The day Abdulrahman was hit by the rocket fragment, he was returning home from the market with his brother who was also injured.

Abdulrahman said he was hit in the head and a “piece of skull was lifted out.” Missing school because of the injury made him sad, he said.

Elshihabi, Abdulrahman’s doctor, is glad to be able to help.

“I’ve been wanting for quite a while to do something either here or over there,” the doctor said. “It’s a great opportunity to make a child’s life better.”

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